Everybody Loves a Good Drought: Stories from India's Poorest Districts Paperback – Oct 14 2000
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What certainly comes through in Sainath's book is the incredible arrogance of much of the Indian administration. Save a few isolated cases, the examples of the arrogant official class are myriad - the official insistence that they know better than the very natives who had lived in an area for years; the mass sterilisation of perfectly good cattle, already adapted to the environment, in order to make way for a so-called "super cattle", which turns out to be useless; or the mass uprooting of millions of people to make way for useless dams, now brought to the attention of the West through the thankless activism of Arundhati Roy (the author of the God of Small Things). A consistent theme running through Sainath's reporting is a lack of honest and sincere consultation with the very people the `reforms' are supposed to help.
There are hopeful stories too - like the story of women's collectives. Sainath tells of how groups of women have gotten together and formed organised labour, and which do a better, more efficient work than the more `sophisticated' industries and companies. Indeed, industries come across as monopolies only interested in maintaining their corner of the market, and more than willing to resort to nasty tricks in order to maintain their dominance (for instance, creating rival groups to undermine the administration's trust in such organised groups, social ostracism, even physical abuse). Corrupt officials don't help these collectives' chances either - since the collectives' cheaper and more efficient labour threaten the kickbacks the officials get from the industries.
The Indian middle class are also chastised by Sainath. Like their Western counterparts, they require a diet of horror stories to grab their attention. Hence, stories are often reported as ahistorical events, rather than dealing honestly with the process which led to the `event' in question. More than this, the middle classes have become so numbed to the poverty of the majority, that they require exceptional suffering to warrant their time - thus, there are reports of `epidemics' and `droughts' which are often exaggerations or mistruths.
After a while, I felt myself becoming numbed by the stories. There were simply too many tales of woe. This isn't really a complaint about Sainath's reporting, but maybe more of a plea for longer, more detailed stories from him. But this is the nature of his book, which is essentially a compilation of newspaper articles. Although Sainath makes a plea in his book for a view of Indian poverty as process rather than event, sometimes I felt his stories were too short to support the process approach he himself advocates. Still, this should not stop any reader interested in India from reading this book. It is a shocking indictment of the India that should have been.
A standard criticism of works like Sainath's would be that it is merely critical, and doesn't provide any answers. How can one learn from the mistakes of one's predecessors? The impression I got from Sainath was that the best that could be done is more consultation, more historical awareness, more backup studies, more studies of the actual effects of the reform process itself on the environment and the people actually involved, and so on. It's not a particularly innovative conclusion, but it's probably realistic.
Sainath is the most irreverent and committed journalist in India today. His stories, written for the Times of India, are full of pathos, but also of optimism--optimism born of his discovery that the poor in India are organizing to fight for their rights, have maintained a sense of dignity, and continue to live their lives against the most difficult odds.
The stories of government mismanagement of funds earmarked for rural uplift are perhaps not surprising, but for many, the stories of the venality of corporations and the tales of institutions like the Army running roughshod over the rights of hundreds of millions of India might just open eyes that were glued shut to the injustices prevalent in the Indian social matrix. The stories of India's 80 million tribal and indigenous people, Adivasis, are heart wrenching and fantastic--such stories cannot be found in mainstream publications.
Sainath has done an enormous and important task here: I recommend this book to everyone.
If this book has a weakness, it is in its repetition of account upon account of despair without offering potential solutions to alleviate the crisis. A great companion book to this excellent work would be Abraham George's "India Untouched: The Forgotten Face of Rural Poverty", which examines the crisis of poverty and offers realistic and pratical solutions that have been implemented.
Read this compelling study into a problem happening all over the world. If you get a chance to hear Mr. Sainath speak, make sure you do not miss it. He is fantastic. One of the great investigative reporters in Indian.
The topic sounds sad. But the shenanigans that happen, as we see the route the money takes to get to the local people, are almost funny because of the way the author uses his skills with words and his use of the "understatement" to heighten the absurdity of the situation.
This book is very eye opening about the government in India. It almost reminds me of how ineffective the U.S. has been in its attempt to implement funds for natural disaster relief like with Katrina or others.
The book tells so much about the mentality of the people of India, their perseverance and strength and, in the end, their wisdom in dealing with the government.
Excellent read! Informative and, in a absurdist way, humorous.
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